In an early episode of The Good Wife, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is outraged when she founds out she owes her latest client to her husband Peter’s (Chris Noth), an ex-State’s Attorney serving time in prison for corruption, machinations.
“I was doing you a favor!” he protests.
“By sending me a hooker?” she asks in disbelief, his very recent past with high priced escorts, of which her new client may well have been a part, coloring the conversation.
“A rape victim!” he says defensively, to all appearances honestly shocked that she would have a problem with his lawyer personally referring a stripper/ hooker/ rape victim, whose degree of acquaintance with Peter is never really explained, her way.
It’s a great scene. And the kind of writing that makes The Good Wife, the story of a political wife putting her life back together after being publicly humiliated by her husband’s high-profile indiscretions, not just my favorite freshman show this year, but actually the network ensemble I’ve enjoyed most since The West Wing went off air.
It’s not really a political show though. The three main arcs of the show are Alicia’s work at a prestigious but financially troubled law firm; her continuing struggle against the fallout of her husband’s actions on their personal life; and the skulduggery surrounding Peter’s appeal against his conviction. Unlike a number of other shows, however, there isn’t a single arc that doesn’t grab your interest.
Noth is absolutely pitch perfect as the erring husband. As each episode reveals the ever-increasing depth of Alicia’s humiliation at his hands, you wonder why on earths she would stick by him – to the point of even testifying in his favor. And then you see the two of them together, working as a unit, and the way he so unerringly finds her buttons as he attempts to slowly woo her back… and you still don’t understand it but you begin to think his bitter ex-mistress/ favorite hooker was right – they deserve each other.
Underneath the buttoned up exterior (Margulies plays Alicia as a steely-spined, near-expressionless store of banked emotions in a way that is absolutely riveting to watch), is a woman who evidently chose not to match her husband for the fifteen years she spent at home raising their children. Now, next-to-friendless, broke, with her husband in prison and some very powerful people gunning for his head, she chooses something quite different and it’s wonderfully entertaining to watch people who thought they knew her based on her role as her husband’s wife get the shock of their lives. People such as Glenn Childs (Titus Welliver), the new State’s Attorney and Peter’s arch nemesis who made the mistake of thinking her an easy target.
Meanwhile, Alicia’s co-workers include Will (Josh Charles), her friend from law school who gave her a trial job as a junior associate at the firm where he is one of the partners. This pleases exactly no one – Diane (Christine Baranski), the other partner isn’t too fond of Alicia and sees no reason why she should be promoted at the expense of the other associate they hired on a trial basis, Cary (Matt Czuchry), especially when he does such a good job bringing in the money. Cary thinks there might be a bit of favoritism going on too.
The one exception, and the surprise packet of the series, is Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the firm’s in-house investigator. A bit of a mystery woman, she’s tough, she’s smart, she’s sexy and she’s a really good friend to Alicia in ways that are uniquely her own.
In fact, for a show centered on a woman who makes the mind-boggling choice to stand by the man who humiliated her to an insane degree and continues to make sacrifices on his behalf, The Good Wife isn’t short of strong female characters and the complex ways in which they behave. In the same episode featuring the hooker, the court trial ends with Alicia, Kalinda, the rape victim and her mother standing outside the courtroom while the accused rapist’s new wife protests his innocence.
Back home in their new, smaller apartment, Alicia’s kids are dealing with their father’s fall from grace in ways subtly demonstrating the fact that no matter how he may feel about it, he’s forever screwed them up to a degree that none of them can process yet. And they’re being brought up, part-time, by Peter’s mother, who chooses denial over the cold-eyed acceptance that Alicia prefers as a life strategy.
It is a fascinating cast of characters and one of those few shows that injects immediate addiction. My only crib is that the season finale is next week.